Thank you all for bearing with me while I took the week off as I escaped the hell that is a New England winter to islands under the Eastern Caribbean sunshine. It was great to enjoy a break with my family, but it also turned out to be a time of reflection and self-evaluation. Part of looking inward meant new experiences as far as places I have never been to before, but also what my tastes and preferences are when it comes to my own consumption of tasty adult beverages.
You see, The Greatest Family In The World and I ventured to the islands via Disney Cruise Line (which I will sing the praises of at a later date...just know that the food, drink, service, and attention to detail is impeccable and I highly recommend doing it sometime). Among walking the main squares by the ports, enjoying the sandy beaches, and pictures with Goofy, there was plenty of time to get to the grown-up portions of the ship, notably Deck 4, which had all of the killer wines, spirits, and cocktails you could ever want. One of items that I saw on board in the lounges embodied a dichotomy of familiar and foreign that I have been feeling since I was legally able to drink. Today, I speak of Campari.
Campari has a stunning package. Launched back in 1861, it stands out on a bar shelf with its intense bright red liquid and a bold, yet traditional-looking label. I have seen Campari so many times, I feel like I should already know what it is about. But you want to know something? I have never consumed it until last week's getaway.
This Italian bitter liqueur made up of fruits, herbs, and other plant life is so versatile; it can be used as an aperitif or as a digestive drink. Campari became popular in the United States during the ridiculous Prohibition Era as it was not classified as alcohol, but as a medicine. Campari and soda became an instant hit, and when sweet vermouth was added to the equation, the Italians called it the Americano. However in 1919 when Count Camillo Negroni asked for a higher octane version of the Americano, he chose gin to replace the club soda and the basis for today's Negroni was born. The Americano was originally garnished with a lemon, but an orange was chosen as the Negroni's garnish simply to signal a differentiation from the Americano.
At the Disney Cruise Line's Skyline Lounge, they served a cocktail called "Il Valentino," which contained Hendrick's gin, Campari, and Antica Formula 1786 Vermouth shaken with ice and strained. This was pretty much a Negroni served without ice in a cocktail glass rather than on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. When I tasted Il Valentino, I knew I was ready to embrace the Negroni (which I did when we stopped at The Wave at the Contemprary Resort in Disneyworld before coming home). It was tremendous. With Hendrick's being softer in texture and lighter on juniper than, say, Tanqueray, it does a great job countering the complex, bittersweet flavor of Campari. Antica Formula 1786 has very clean fruity flavors with bitter orange and coffee notes and adds extra depth. Additionally, I can't say enough about possessing quality base ingredients in a cocktail...it makes all the difference in the world between a decent cocktail and an extraordinary one.
Variants of the Negroni substitute the gin for whiskey or Tequila. Some examples might use dry vermouth instead of sweet. However the common link in any version of a Negroni, whether the classic or a variant, is always Campari's neon red color and distinct flavor and aroma.
Here is your recipe to make a classic Negroni at home. There are so many flavors going on, it's hard to describe. You just have to try it for yourself, especially if you are a fan of bitter flavors. It's a new favorite of mine that I can drink at any time of year, before or after a huge meal.
1.5 oz Antica Formula 1786 (or other preferred sweet red vermouth)
1.5 oz Campari
1.5 oz Gin (your choice)
Add all ingredients to an Old Fashioned or Highball glass filled with large ice cubes. Stir and garnish with an orange slice. Drink, fall in love, and eat everything in the fridge.